There aren’t many bands as steeped in class and refinement as Kamelot. Since their earliest days their take on melodic power metal has been swanky and upper-crust, and its only grown more polished over the years, adopting neo-classical influences and pompous orchestration. The Shadow Theory marks the band’s third release with Tommy Karevik behind the mic, and things are as elegantly highfalutin as ever, often at the expense of the heavy and the metal components of their sound. Since few come to a Kamelot cotillion for raw power or brutality, this poses no issue, but will all that glitz and refinement eventually start to wear thin? Maybe, but the fancy boys still knows how to rock a formal with the best of them, and though The Shadow Theory offers no surprises, it sticks to their successful template and keeps things gold-plated and tony.
If you’ve spun any of the band’s albums, you know what to expect – mostly mid-tempo power metal with lush orchestration, high-level musicianship, stellar vocals and a slight progressive edge. After the mandatory pomp and circumcision of opening chamber music piece “the Mission,” we get down to burnished brass tacks with “Phantom Divine (Shadow Empire).” It’s rote by Kamelot standards, but it works well enough on the strength of Tommy’s larger-than-life vocals, some aggressive, quasi-core riffing and the talent of all involved. It builds toward a chorus you expect to bowl you over with bombast, but when it finally arrives, it’s a bit underwhelming and predictable. The sparsely used harsh vocals by Lauren Hart (Once Human) feel somewhat forced and cheesy, but overall it’s a successful tune. Things improve from there with more lively, cuts like “Ravenlight,” and especially “Amnesiac” getting the blue blood pumping thanks to some heavy-ish riffing and less focus on neo-classical fluffery.
From here the album tries to find the proper balance between lighter and more strident fare. Unfortunately, the scales tip toward the former with softer, semi-ballads like “In Twilight Hours” and “Stories Untold.” Highlights include “Mindfall Remedy,” which packs more punch and sports the album’s biggest and best chorus. Lauren Hart’s harsh snarls fare better here, giving the dignified music a slight kick in the derriere. Penultimate cut “The Proud and the Broken” also stands out, pulling all the traditional Kamelot tropes together with an added dose of heaviness in the riffing that does wonders.
The thing about this band is, they’re far too talented to write completely bad songs, but they are capable of crafting material that feels flat and bloodless. Here the casualties are limited to the unexciting “Static,” and the mega-sappy “In Twilight Hours,” where Tommy duets with Jennifer Haben (Beyond the Black). They’re a talented twosome but you’ve heard this kind of ballad a million times before and it borders on filler.
At the school of power metal vocalists, Tommy is the precocious teacher’s pet. He’s blessed with a great voice, sounding dignified and regal regardless of how trite the lyrics may be. He doesn’t go for ear-shattering highs or testicularly challenging screams, always sticking to a subdued delivery. This fits the band’s stately, classical leanings, but it feels too polite at times. When he lets go a bit more than usual on “The Proud and the Broken,” my first thought was “why doesn’t he do this more often?” Guitarist Thomas Youngblood and keyboardist Oliver Palotai engage in elaborate duels at times, notably on “Kevlar Skin,” and there’s no denying their talent. However, the guitar often feels relegated to the background as the keys and orchestration take center stage with Tommy. It’s when Youngblood is in a lead role injecting heavy riffing into the orchestra pit that Kamelot is at their most exciting, and there simply isn’t enough of that here.
The Shadow Theory is another pristine sounding power metal outing, but the pop in the writing feels slightly diminished from 2015s Haven, which in turn felt less lively than 2012s Silverthorn. None of these songs would go on my Best of Kamelot playlist and it’s starting to feel as if the band is spinning their decorative, jewel-encrusted wheels in the mud. That said, this is still an enjoyable dose of good power-pomp. I just think they’ll need to get some dirt on those fancy duds if they want to remain interesting going forward.